White Star Line 1849 - 1934

Did Pirkenhammer make China for the Titanic?

By Michael L. Dudley

As a Titanic and White Star Line Enthusiast for more than 40 years, it has always been the details and the unknowns that get my adrenaline flowing more than any other aspect. The subject of who made china for the White Star Line and supplied other items for the company has long been one of the many interests that keeps me studying long into the early morning hours.

In order to develop leads and answer questions regarding details and unknowns on any subject, it is best to start with what is known and the evidence available. Given that company records are often lost or not kept, I have found that going directly to the source is not always helpful. In these instances, the best sources of evidence are generally examples of the product from the time in question, and to attempt to get the product(s) to provide clues to a mystery.

During my research into the question of Pirkenhammer making China for the Titanic, I found it necessary to look not only at the products of Pirkenhammer, but at the products of Haviland China. The reason for this will be addressed later. First, I think it necessary to briefly look at the histories of Pirkenhammer and two Haviland Companies for those not familiar with them.

Charles Field Haviland

Charles Field Haviland was the nephew of David Haviland, the original founder of the Haviland & Co. factory in Limoges, France. In 1882, when his father Barclay entered into a partnership with his brothers Richard, Daniel & David, Charles was sent to Limoges to learn the craft of china manufacturing. A few years later he married the granddaughter of one of the most famous porcelain manufacturers in France, Francois Alluaud II. Shortly thereafter, Charles began his own studio, decorating whiteware produced by Alluaud and then sending the pieces to his uncle in New York. It was not until 1868, when he rented his own two-kiln factory adjacent to Haviland & Co. in Limoges, that he began manufacturing and decorating his own whiteware china. After he reorganized the old Haviland & Co. distribution company in New York, demand increased to such a level that he was compelled to lease a three-kiln factory in nearby Vierzon. In 1876, Charles Field acquired the sixty-year old Alluaud factory in Casseaux. The high cost of renovations, however, eventually overwhelmed him. He relinquished management to three men by the name of GĂ©rard, Dufraisseix & Morel, and retired as a controlling stockholder in the company in 1881. The pieces produced subsequently can be recognized by the green underglaze stamp GDM/CFH, and are considered some of the finest pieces ever produced in the Casseaux factory. After 1900, Morel was replaced by Edgar Abbott, and the mark GDA began to be employed, and is still in use today.

Johann Haviland Company

Jean Haviland was the son of Charles Edward Haviland and the grandson of David Haviland of the well known Haviland China of France. In 1907, perhaps seeking to escape the French porcelain rivalry, he changed his name to John, moved to Waldershof, Germany and started his own china business using the name "Johann Haviland Company". Bavaria was the only other region outside France (besides China) where the "kaolin clay" used in the high quality china could be found. His products included a wide range of products from everyday china, hotel china, and high quality china for home use. The company was short lived and in 1924, Johann Haviland was sold to Richard-Ginori and the name of the firm was changed to "Porzellanfabrik Waldershof AG." Rosenthal China of Germany purchased the Waldershof factory in 1937

Pirkenhammer (Fischer and Meig)

Pirkenhammer of Austria/Bavaria was founded in 1803 by Johann Gottlob List & Friedrich Hocke and started manufacturing tableware and tobacco-pipes.

In 1811 the declining business was sold to Johan Martin Fischer from Erfurt and Christopher Reichenbach from Brezová. The new owners modified the manufacturing process and product lines and soon began producing proper coffee and dining sets, copying Saxon designs. In 1822 they were granted a license from national porcelain manufacturer. After Fischer died in 1824, the business was operated by his widow and Reichenbach, until Fischer's son Christian gained control in 1831.

By this time, Pirkenhammer porcelain was considered the best in Bohemia, and was greatly valued for its superior translucency rivaling the French manufacturers.

In 1833 Christian Fischer married Emma Karolina von Mieg from Ludwigsburg. Christian Fischer was knew well his business and he closely observed the French Manufacturers which he used as models for his own company. Pirkenhammer prospered under his direction.

Pirkenhammer won a bronze medal at the 1835 Vienna Fair in 1835, and a gold medal in 1839. The many achievements of Christian Fischer gained him the prestigious position of becoming one of the Fair committee's members in 1845. However, this appointment deprived Pirkenhammer from being nominated for further awards.

In 1846 technical director Reichenbach retired and in 1852 he sold his share to Fischer. In the same year Fischer's daughter Wilhelmine married Ludwig von Mieg, who became a co-owner of the company which then became 'Fischer and Mieg of Pirkenhammer.'

Pirkenhammer is known to have made fine porcelains for royalty throughout Europe as well as the Papacy. One of the most beautiful sets produced was made in 1915 for Pope Benedict XV.

The Haviland and Pirkenhammer connections.

IMMC Souvenir made by C. H. Haviland c.1900
An IMMC Souvenir made by C. H. Haviland c.1900
A Red Star Line Souvenir made by C. H. Haviland c.1900
A Red Star Line Souvenir made by C. H. Haviland c.1900

Haviland China did make what appears to be souvenir china for the International Mercantile Marine and the Red Star Line which were effectively owned by J. P. Morgan. The White Star Line was also under the Morgan combine, so one can wonder if souvenir wares were created for the more prestigious White Star Line. It is difficult to place this china outside the legal and cultural interest of these companies, and whether or no this china was sold onboard any of the ships of these companies has yet to be established. However, any other setting causes problems. It can only be concluded that this china had some connection to these companies.

As there are several examples of Haviland pieces that are apparently connected to some of shipping companies owned by J. P. Morgan. There are also Haviland and Pirkenhammer pieces that are related to one another, and which share the same back marks with one another as well as with those marked for the shipping lines. A prime example are the Haviland France pieces that bare the signature "Jennines" as well as the name Ogden over the "OMG" mark. These marks appear predominantly on woodland themes. This does not however connect the Pirkenhammer pieces marked 'Titanic" to the ship. There simply is not enough concrete evidence to firmly establish this. There is plenty of circumstantial evidence to establish this was the case, but in my opinion circumstantial evidence isn't sufficient to establish anything beyond a definite maybe. The possibility certainly cannot be dismissed.

One can speculate that as some of these pieces marked 'Titanic' seem to be unfinished, they were intended as a souvenir of some type either onboard the ship, or through the White Star Line in some other setting. Although any other setting is difficult to imagine they certainly would not be for onboard use as table service and stories reporting such are mistaken at best.

Why these plates survive is another mystery. Perhaps Johann Haviland and/or Pirkenhammer could not afford to take a loss after the disaster and disposed of them otherwise, leaving some wares unfinished to cut their losses. Perhaps the finished pieces, which most certainly must have had a company logo on the back as do the IMMC and RSL pieces shown, which did not make it aboard ship were destroyed by the White Star Line having no crossover market to the other ships as these were marked "Titanic". If Haviland or Pirkenhammer had finished pieces, the White Star would certainly have given an order for their destruction as well. What is seen today are blanks and a few company finished pieces that could be sold as they had no White Star Line mark. The blanks could have been sold to amateur artists to practice their craft. Haviland and Pirkenhammer would likely have done this to recoup any losses in the manufacturing of the unsold blanks to White Star. Again, this is all purely speculation and there is no evidence for Pirkenhammer or Haviland wares being ordered by White Star, or intended for the Titanic in any capacity.

Pirkenhammer set c.1912
A Pirkenhammer set in the WSLMF collection bearing Haviland Markings as well as "Titanic"
on the saucers. c1912

Having noted the artist "Jennines" connection to both Haviland and Pirkenhammer, the evidence also placers this artist around 1912. The "OGDEN" over "OMG" mark, along with a signature of the artist "Jennines," appears on one of two matching Pirkenhammer saucers in the collection. The "OMG" marks are identical to the Haviland pieces signed by this artist. The second saucer only bares the Pirkenhammer mark along with 'Titanic.' A third matching plate which is larger has no Pirkenhammer mark, but has "Jennines," "OMG/Ogden," and "Bavaria". Was it simply that these were unused blanks acquired by the artist "Jennines" to practice on, or were these company finished pieces that were able to be sold? The quality of many of these pieces has led to much confusion and cynicism about Pirkenhammer to the unknowing of fine porcelain.

Many have erroneously assumed Pirkenhammer was a low rate manufacturer by falsely assuming that all of these pieces are Pirkenhammer issued pieces. Only the blanks were Pirkenhammer and not all of the artwork. Therefore not all painted pieces are official Pirkenhammer pieces. The quality of many of the pieces is not what one would see in official Pirkenhammer pieces.

Pirkenhammer Titanic saucer with Artists signature.
One of the Pikenhammer 'Titanic' saucers in the WSLMF collection with the Signature "Jennings" and the Ogden, Merrill, and Greer "OMG/Ogden" Mark appear on Haviland pieces.

Some claim that fine china plates were too delicate to be offered as souvenirs, yet we clearly see they were likely offered on Red Star Line ships. These ships weren't rodeo rides! Fine china was used in the first class dining areas of these ships and the china survived. Those who bought souvenir's had the money to do so and it is reasonable that varying goods in quality, type, and price would have been offered to meet differing interests.

Having noted all this, I would not hoard, or pay a huge sum for any of the Pirkenhammer china marked 'Titanic' on what has been discovered to date. Should concrete evidence someday establish that Pirkenhammer and/or Haviland China was intended as souvenirs on the Titanic, it would be little more than an interesting side note to the history of the Titanic. Were the plates not ready for her maiden voyage and were to be added on another voyage? Not likely. Additionally, why hasn't Pirkenhammer been connected to any of the other White Star Line ships before, or after Titanic? The Titanic wasn't a remarkable ship in all honesty. Had she not met with disaster, she would have been a footnote to the history of the White Star Line. The Olympic was the star of the Olympic Class of ships, as were all the other "first" ships in the series of classes. Titanic is remembered because of her fate and the loss of prominent people. Her memory prevails because she sells and makes those of us involved in the history a lot of money.

Large Titanic Plate with Artist "Jennings" or "Jennines" signature.
The Large Pirkenhammer plate with Haviland artist "Jennings" signature on the back.
Large Titanic Plate with "OMG" and Bavaria mark.
The Large plate in the WSLMF collection with Havilands "OMG" mark on the back. Also of interest
is that this plate, though identical in design to the saucers, has no Pirkenhammer mark and bears a Bavaria origin.

Unless any of these Pirkenhammer pieces are actually found in the the debris field all is mere speculation. There hasn't been any examples found thus far, and I doubt there will be.

Since this article was originally posted in 1998, there has been a Pirkenhammer plate sold to a casino for a considerable sum of money. The plate was reportedly from a Second Class Stateroom and taken off the ship. Pirkenhammer has issued a statement confirming that they did make china for use onboard the ship. Case closed!? Not hardly.

A single piece of Pirkenhammer has yet to be found in the debris field of Titanic's wreck site. Had this been for in cabin use of any class, there most assuredly would have been at least one example recovered thus far. One thing is evident, and it is that this china would not have been used as service pieces in any capacity. If they were anything, they were destined as souvenir's. Pirkenhammer has not released convincing evidence to show that they were commissioned to make china for Titanic in any regard, and it seems merely wishful thinking on their part that they were.


Denise Guerrero

Antique China Porcelain Collectibles

Haviland Online

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